Human nature is such that every person acts for his or her own good.  Thus, apparent goods and real goods have the same end: the good of one’s self.     However simple is that general statement, any evaluation that is more than cursory and superficial finds difficulties for both categories, although the difficulties differ for each.

The online Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “apparent” as “manifest to the senses or mind as real or true on the basis of evidence that may or may not be factually valid” (fifth listing).       The key words are “may or may not.”     Thus, what is apparently good may or may not be the real good.     Then, what are the difficulties that might prevent apparent goods from being real goods?

(1) Immediacy. Immediate decisions appear when you first learn of something desirable.     For example, one lazy Thanksgiving afternoon almost five years ago, my daughter told my wife and I about a house for sale, since we had begun to discuss the possibility of moving.     But whether the house was “good” for us needed further evaluation. Or, you see an advertisement for a great deal on “just what I have been looking for”—with a time limit!     You are faced with an immediate decision.     (2) Appeal to the emotions. A neighbor begins telling you about “big bucks” that he has just made in some investment.     You are strongly attracted to being able to make “big bucks” also, as most of your investments have previously failed.     You greatly desire to make up the losses that you have had.

(3) Pressure from someone close.     In dating, partners often debate “how far to go.”     What will be “good” for their relationship?     When they do not agree, one may pressure the other to “go further.” There is pressure from the other.     (4) The “moment.”     You have been training for long distance running, and you are in your first race.     You have the opportunity to take the lead and set a new “personal record” for yourself. You are in the moment, but is your training sufficient for the challenge?

Perhaps, all these categories could be lumped into “short term” considerations. You are faced with decisions that have some urgency for the variety of reasons named (and others too lengthy for this brief paper).       But with only minimal life experience and awareness, you come to realize that many “apparent” or “short term” decisions may have seriously negative long term consequences: buying a house that you can’t really afford, making a momentary investment decision that loses “big bucks,” heartbreak or a sexually transmitted disease from “going too far” in a partnership, or a pulled muscle that sidelines you for a season or even for a lifetime.

So, how do you recognize an apparent or short term good from a long term good? Well, there are practical and philosophical (spiritual or religious) considerations. First, there are the practical.     (1) Do your homework.     In buying a house, plan well what you can afford.     In investments, get several opinions; diversify; plan over a long period of time.     (2) Get wise counsel.     Seek the advice of parents or others who are more advanced in years and seem to be successful.     If a couple has been married for several decades, ask how they managed to succeed all those years.     (3) Know that the “immediate” is more likely to be “long term bad,” even though it may have be a “short term good.”     There are few instances in life with the excitement, intimacy, and “apparent good” of young boy-girl relationships, but there have been great heartaches and tragedies from a failure to consider long term consequences.

But the “good” goes beyond individuals.     There are goods for families, social relationships, cities, states, and even the world.     Socrates in many of his dialogues is concerned with justice. Is not justice just another name for what is “good for everyone?” What better good can there be for individuals and groups than justice. But therein serious problems arise.     Everyone does not have the same idea of justice!     In the United States, there are two political parties, each of which thinks that they promote justice.     Thousands of judges in America and around the world administer justice in highly diverse ways.     A small theft in the Middle East may result in one’s hand being cut off. A murderer in the United States may walk free on some technicality or a skillful (sophistic) lawyer.     Even nature is not just, as tsunamis, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, and tornadoes devastate thousands and millions of people, regardless of social status and nationality.

In the Gorgias, Socrates (Plato) demonstrates that sophists do not promote justice.     Justice is more likely achieved by the “experts” of a particular trade. In The Republic, he progressively designs an education for individuals by planning a city of justice and working back to the individual.     Each person should work according to his own aptitude and character. The rulers (guardians) have special training and education to prepare them to be “just” (good).     But, there are two problems that are not addressed.     First, human nature is neither programmable nor predictable. “Good” people do “bad” (unjust) things.     And, “bad” people sometimes do “good” things.     Spouses in an “apparently good” marriage may kill each other and sometimes their children.     Employees that are scrupulously honest for decades, confiscate funds.

Second, nature and untoward events are not always preventable.     Natural disasters were mentioned above.     “Drive-by” shootings kill innocent people, as do drunk drivers. People who are innocent of crimes for which they are tried are convicted and punished with prison or death.

All these seemingly random injustices seem to preclude any chance of there ever being any hope of “real” goods in one’s earthly life.     With the unpredictability of both humans and nature, a “good” life seems at best a high risk and “luck.”

But there is hope. Plato speaks of The Philosophy—One, not many philosophies.     Perhaps, it is not a philosophy per se, but a religion. For “good” to be certain to a person, the whole universe must be controlled. Religions promise salvation—salvation from what?     Salvation from all the vicissitudes of life that I have been reviewing and promise of a “good” life.       However, no religion can promise a completely “good” life unless its benevolent power is absolute—omnipotent.     Only such a power or Power can control all these vicissitudes of nature and human nature.

But there is more. Religions may or may not posit some sort of afterlife.     Many posit the cessation of existence—a person’s existence ends when his or her body dies.       Others posit a merging with the universe, but with a loss of consciousness of self-identity.       The great monotheistic religions—Christianity, Judaism, and Islam—posit a continuing existence of self-consciousness in Heaven or Hell (each describes these places differently).

But only one religion promises good in everything in this life and the life to come—Christianity.     “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).     While that promise does not eliminate all the vicissitudes of life from our perspective, they will be “good” in some known or unknown way for those “called.”     In fact, the proclamation of Christianity is called “Good” News (literally, “good message”—Greek, eu-angelion.)     The Good News is that it is free for “whoever believes in Him (Christ)” will have “good” for all times.

There is one final “good” in the message of Christianity that is sometimes overlooked.     I started with a practical approach to distinguish between the apparent and real good.     The Bible gives detailed instructions for every situation in life through the Ten Commandments, as a summary of all the instructions of the Old and New Testaments.     For example, “Husbands, love your wife as Christ loved the Church” (Ephesians 5:21), “Do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Ephesians 4:26), and “Raise your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).

Perhaps, The Philosophy of Plato was his “through the glass darkly” understanding of what Christianity would offer as the ultimate “good.” It is freely offered (at the expense of Christ’s “payment”), it promises “good” in everything in this life, it gives detailed instructions on what is good and what is not, and it promises, not just the good, but the best possible existence in the next life. Pascal’s Wager stands today. All this good is also the epitome of justice:     properly understood, interpreted, and applied, there is no conflict in the instructions of Scripture for individuals, families, social groups, cities, nations, or the international community! How good or just is the Good News!